Deluzio calls for defense secretary to step down 

He’s the first Democrat to call for Lloyd Austin to resign over ‘lack of transparency about his recent medical treatment.’

By: - January 10, 2024 6:25 pm
U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-17th District (Capital-Star file).

U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-17th District (Capital-Star file).

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, a Pennsylvania Democrat, is publicly calling for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin after he failed to inform the White House of his prostate cancer diagnosis and recent surgery and hospitalization.

Deluzio, a freshman lawmaker and Iraq war veteran, said in a statement Wednesday that he has “lost trust in Secretary Lloyd Austin’s leadership of the Defense Department due to the lack of transparency about his recent medical treatment and its impact on the continuity of the chain of command.”

Deluzio’s office said Wednesday the congressman is the first House Democrat to request Austin’s resignation.

“I have a solemn duty in Congress to conduct oversight of the Defense Department through my service on the House Armed Services Committee. That duty today requires me to call on Secretary Austin to resign. I thank Secretary Austin for his leadership and years of dedicated service to the American people and wish him a speedy recovery,” said Deluzio, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who served three deployments, including one as a U.S. Army Civil Affairs Officer in Iraq, according to his office.

GOP Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, who chairs the House Committee on Armed Services, formally launched an investigation Tuesday into Lloyd’s failure to disclose the information.

“Everything from on-going counterterrorism operations to nuclear command and control relies on a clear understanding of the Secretary’s decision-making capacity. The Department is a robust institution, and it is designed to function under attack by our enemies, but it is not designed for a Secretary who conceals being incapacitated,” Rogers wrote in a letter to Austin.

Hidden cancer diagnosis, hospitalization

Journalists and the public learned Friday that Austin had been admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on New Year’s Day “for complications following a recent elective medical procedure,” according to a Pentagon press release sent at 5:23 p.m.

It was later revealed that President Joe Biden and White House National Security officials did not know of Austin’s hospitalization until Jan. 4, and as of Tuesday did not know the reason.

Austin released a statement Saturday saying he “could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better.”

“But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure,” he said.

But further information was revealed Tuesday calling into question the Pentagon’s initial claim that Austin’s procedure was elective.

Doctors at Walter Reed released a statement Tuesday revealing they had identified prostate cancer in early December 2023 and that the secretary underwent a “minimally invasive” prostatectomy under general anesthesia on Dec. 22. The procedure generally removes all or part of the prostate gland.

He returned home Dec. 23 with an “excellent prognosis,” Dr. John Maddox and Dr. Gregory Chestnut said in the statement.

However, on Jan. 1 Austin returned to the hospital with nausea and severe abdominal, hip and leg pain. An initial evaluation revealed a urinary tract infection, and Austin was admitted Jan. 2, the doctors said.

“Further evaluation revealed abdominal fluid collections impairing the function of his small intestines. This resulted in the back up of his intestinal contents which was treated by placing a tube through his nose to drain his stomach. The abdominal fluid collections were drained by non-surgical drain placement,” according to the doctors’ statement.

Austin “never lost consciousness” or went under general anesthesia since being admitted in January, and his infection has cleared, the doctors said.

On Tuesday afternoon, White House officials revealed that Biden was never informed of Austin’s cancer diagnosis.

“Nobody at the White House knew that Secretary Austin had prostate cancer until this morning, and the President was informed immediately after we were informed,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

When asked, Kirby said Biden plans to keep Austin in his job for the rest of his term.

The Pentagon is now conducting a 30-day review of communication up and down the chain of command.

Austin remains hospitalized but is “in contact with his senior staff and has full access to required secure communications capabilities and continues to monitor DOD’s day-to-day operations worldwide,” Pentagon spokesman Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement Wednesday.

“The Secretary also took an operational update today from the U.S. Central Command commander Gen. Erik Kurilla and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr,” Ryder said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ashley Murray
Ashley Murray

Ashley Murray covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include domestic policy and appropriations.